Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated PG, 106 minutes
Directed by: Ben Falcone
It’s rare to see a movie that can simultaneously value and completely undervalue its leading lady. But here we are with SUPERINTELLIGENCE. Director Ben Falcone and screenwriter Steve Mallory provide a strong set-up for an invigorating, delightfully introspective performance from Melissa McCarthy, playing an average woman tasked with saving mankind when she’s the one in need of rescue. Yet what follows doesn’t do her comedic skillset any favors, nor speak positively to the creativity of the filmmakers. Everyone seems the dumber for it.
Carol Peters (McCarthy) has essentially given up on life. She previously quit her monied career at a major corporation and left her cute boyfriend George (Bobby Cannavale), opting to retreat into the margins of society to find herself. Outside of volunteer work, she’s not keen on socializing. She barely wants to talk with her best friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry), mainly because he keeps encouraging her to get back out there.
However, Carol’s tech-driven world turns upside down when she’s visited by mysterious Artificial Intelligence program Super Intelligence, sounding curiously like her favorite celebrity James Corden, who tells her it’s thinking of either enslaving, saving or destroying humanity. The only thing that could prevent this imminent catastrophe is if she can show it why humans are fundamentally good. The fate of humankind rests in her hands. Only first, there’s personal accountability she chooses take care of before the end of the world, which includes patching things up with her lost love.
Screenwriter Steve Mallory lobs some interesting scenarios and concepts at Carol, posing the big questions of what would one do if the world was to end, or how would one go about teaching core emotional responses and empathy to an algorithm. Still, none really go where you’d logically expect, nor want to see, and there’s very little rousing, uplifting payoff delivered. The A.I. outfits her with plenty of monetary resources, a high-tech Tesla, a gorgeously furnished high-end apartment overlooking Seattle’s Elliot Bay and chic fashions. The gags involved in each of these scenes don’t exactly break new ground, but McCarthy falls down a few times to remind you she’s still a gifted physical comedian.
Cannavale and McCarthy have undisputable chemistry together, made all the more lovely when they engage in witty banter. Despite the narrative traversing into familiar, flat romcom territory during the couple’s romantic rekindling, we root for them out of sheer likability. It’s during their walks around Seattle (or whatever tax-break city this was filmed in) when the picture takes on an almost Woody-Allen-inspired tonal quality. This feels like a refreshing change of pace to see Mallory (THE BOSS) and Falcone (THE BOSS, TAMMY) capture McCarthy as a human character – not a caricature. The soundtrack, which plays under a few of their scenes together, adopts a more classy, jazzy vibe. That said, it’s a shame they don’t lean totally into these notes for the remaining run time.
Very little brain power needs to be expelled by the audience when it comes to the movie and TV show references, which are over-relied on as punchlines. The film also flips back and forth between Carol’s travails and a wholly uninteresting, unfunny secondary story about the government combatting the tech threat of the A.I. Plus there’s another subplot involving two N.S.A. agents (played by Falcone and Sam Richardson) that is a time waste too. It’s frustrating to see smarter ideas materialize organically, only to be left by the wayside in favor of all this. Oh well. At least Jean Smart gets to play the president.
The ultimate travesty is that Carol remains a cypher through the majority of her own story. Who is she? Why did she leave her high paying job? What was the major psychological motivator to make her give up on life, ditch her boyfriend and become a loner frump? The answer she states falls under the umbrella of generic unhappiness, which is more an indicator of the filmmakers not cleverly orchestrating a definitive character arc. Heroines like Carol who yearn for the earth-shattering shift in perspective that typically takes place in comedies of this ilk need to have an epiphany, or breakthrough, by the end of act two. She doesn’t, at least not in a satisfactory manner. And if the filmmakers don’t want to bother getting to know their lead character, why should we?
Grade: 2 out of 5
SUPERINTELLIGENCE will debut exclusively on HBOMax on November 26.